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Ukraine: One Year of a Reactionary War

Beyond the sloganeering from some about “freedom and democracy,” and from others about the struggle against “Ukrainian Nazism,” this war is decidedly not one of the workers and popular classes. After a year of debate in characterizing the war, French international analyst Philippe Alcoy articulates an anti-imperialist and class-independent position.

Philippe Alcoy

February 28, 2023
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In the year since the Russian invasion, the world has changed significantly. We now live in a more dangerous world, with increased militarization of various states, especially the imperialist ones, in the context of greater tension between the world powers. The war itself has had terrible consequences for thousands of people who have lost their lives and for many millions more who have had to flee their cities and even their countries. But the effects do not end there.

On the economic level, we have seen the disruption of Russian gas and oil supplies as well as other raw materials, decreases in food production (both Russia and Ukraine are major exporters of agricultural products), among other things, which have deepened and fueled inflation around the world. The direct consequence of this is a fall in the purchasing power of millions and millions of workers in the world. Indeed, as a consequence of the war, millions of people are threatened by famine. And the situation may only get worse as the imperialist powers pursue a policy of warmongering, which must eventually lead to further escalation.

A War Still Deeply Reactionary

As for the character of the war itself, it has not changed: it remains a reactionary war between two camps that defend the interests of the exploiting classes. If on one side we have Putin’s regime, which launched a war in order to submit Ukraine to the interests of Russian capitalism, on the other side we do not find simply a camp that defends the self-determination of its country. As we have seen, from the very first hours of the war, all the Western imperialist powers have taken up the Ukrainian cause. And this has nothing to do with their supposed commitment to the self-determination of all peoples. Au contraire, the imperialist powers of NATO, led by the United States, saw (and still see) this war as a way to weaken not only Russia but also China, of which Moscow has become a major partner. The imperialist powers are not, out of pure opportunism, simply partially supporting the enemies of their competitors. In this war, the “Ukrainian camp” has been completely taken over and, in a way, “merged” with NATO’s interests.

During this year of conflict, we have seen how Washington and its allies not only finance, arm, train, and provide basic intelligence to the Ukrainian army, but also participate at the command and colead its war operations. Western military and financial aid obviously imply a submission of the Ukrainian army to Western decisions (Joe Biden refused, for example, to give the Ukrainian army permission to advance toward Crimea). As a result, the “Ukrainian camp,” with its openly pro-NATO and pro-EU leadership, is also a reactionary one, the reality being far from its rhetoric of freedom and self-determination. Given all these elements, we do not consider that the Ukrainian camp, although fighting Russian aggression, is fighting a “just war” in the sense Lenin gave to the term when he spoke of anti-colonial wars or wars of national liberation.

As far as self-determination is concerned, Ukraine is partially occupied by the Russian army, and the other part of the country is being shelled daily. Ukraine thus seems to have moved away from Russian influence for good, which in itself is a blow to Russian strategy. But this does not mean that Ukraine has moved toward a form of real independence. Rather, the country depends on the Western imperialist powers in a way it never did on Russia or any other power. To illustrate this, it is enough to imagine the situation if the imperialists decided to stop their financial and military support. It is clear that Ukraine would last only a few days from a military point of view, but also economically and politically. In other words, the government of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, far from leading the country toward self-determination, has led it to another situation of submission and almost total dependence, this time on the Western powers. Inevitably, this submission will only increase, even if the conflict ends and perhaps even more so after the end of the war.

Politically, it is the reactionary forces that will emerge stronger, whether under the banner of nationalism or liberalism, and not only in Ukraine but in the whole region. These currents manipulate the history of oppression in Ukraine and other Eastern European countries to stir up nationalist sentiments and strengthen political alternatives that are enemies of the interests of the working class and the popular classes. In this way, a geopolitical and military rapprochement between the Ukrainian and Polish governments is taking place. The war in Ukraine is an opportunity for ultrareactionary political currents and governments to acquire a new image that is more acceptable, even praised, in the West. Let’s not forget that the Polish government, as well as that of Viktor Orban in Hungary, was much maligned by the main European capitals because of its “authoritarianism.” Today, we can see how the Polish government has almost become “mainstream” thanks to its stance toward Russia and its policy of providing military assistance to Ukraine and of welcoming refugees (9 million Ukrainians have entered Poland since the beginning of the war). As for Orban, his positions advocating “neutrality” have brought him even more pressure from the European imperialist powers.

The New Importance of the Central and Eastern European States

At the level of the EU and the question of defense, the war in Ukraine has given a new importance to the states of Central and Eastern Europe. The case of Poland and the Baltic states is the most remarkable given their long-standing hostile policy toward Russia. Poland is even considering ways to build the most powerful army in the EU. Yet analyses that predict a shift in the center of gravity of EU power from the West to the East seem to us to be a self-serving exaggeration. Indeed, Poland, the Baltic states, and other Central and Eastern European states continue to be largely dominated by the European imperialist powers, politically and economically. Poland, for example, may aspire to become a regional power, but its economy is still very much dependent on German and European capital.

As mentioned above, however, the Central and Eastern European states have truly taken a new position at the European level in matters of defense. This is largely because it is through these countries and their integration into NATO that the United States is strengthening its influence and leadership over the “Western world” in Europe. It is no coincidence that Biden, in his European tour for the anniversary of the outbreak of the war, was keen to meet with the “Bucharest Nine,” a bloc composed of nine Central and Eastern European countries belonging to NATO.

A Considerable Strengthening of the Transatlantic Alliance

Although we often speak of “the West,” there exist divergences of interest of among them, even though the Western imperialist powers share a general orientation.. The presence of NATO in Europe has always been a means for the United States to ensure its hegemony on the Continent. On the eve of the war in Ukraine, NATO was in a critical state. The result of Putin’s war has been the strengthening of the transatlantic alliance’s internal ties and thus of North American hegemony in Europe, though not without contradictions. One of the notable effects of this strengthening of NATO has been the rearmament and increase in the military budgets of powers such as Germany and France, among others. In this same dynamic, countries close to NATO but officially “neutral,” such as Finland and Sweden, have asked to be integrated into the alliance.

This alignment of the European imperialists behind the United States has resulted not only in the imposition of new, tougher sanctions on Russia, but also in a full participation in Washington’s policy of escalation by sending more and more sophisticated and powerful weapons to Ukraine. Although this policy often contradicts the medium- and long-term interests of the EU powers, the fear of falling out of favor with Washington at a time when Russia is waging a war on European soil is pushing Europeans states behind the United States. This is particularly true of Germany, the imperialist country most affected in this situation. While it was criticized for its initial reluctance to provide arms to the Ukrainian army, its government has since gone above and beyond, now becoming the second-largest aid donor to Ukraine. Berlin does not, however, make any decision without Washington’s making a decision in the same direction, as we saw with the example of the Leopard 2 tanks.

For its part , the EU has also begun a painful (and costly) process of reducing its dependence on Russian gas. Cheap Russian gas was one of the keys to German industrial (and political) success. The war in Ukraine has shaken the economic foundations of Europe’s leading power while favoring LNG exports from other powers such as the United States itself, as well as Norway. Without a doubt the event that most graphically marks this new situation was the spectacular sabotage of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines. In recent weeks the highly respected North American journalist Seymour Hersh published a long report in which he unambiguously asserts that the United States was behind the sabotage. For now, these claims, which remain allegations, have not been taken into account for various reasons. But the subject is sensitive and constitutes a real Achilles’ heel for the unity of NATO, since it is an act of war not only against Russia but against Germany itself.

A Reactionary Hardening within Russia

As for Russia and Putin, the war has been a fiasco with regard to its first supposed and half-confessed objective: the fall of Kiev. The Russian army has lost much prestige on the Ukrainian battlefield. Putin has been forced to focus on the east of the country and try to expand his control in the Donbas and other regions of southeastern Ukraine. Now, after several setbacks, the Russian army seems to be on the offensive, and several analysts indicate that Moscow is preparing a new offensive for the spring. Beyond the success or not of this possible offensive, the war in Ukraine has thus far forced Putin’s regime to proceed with a partial mobilization of the population (300,000 people!), and even if opposition to the war has been little expressed, we have seen the strengthening of a hardline wing of the regime, a nationalist, right-wing pressure on Putin. This pressure is also reflected in a more reactionary internal policy: among the mobilized people, ethnic minorities occupy a large part, and in the middle of the war the Russian government decided to toughen the repressive laws against LGBTQ+ people.

The Kremlin’s explanation for the outbreak of the war is that it is a response to NATO’s aggressive policy. The Western media has decided to ridicule these statements, and very few analysts take them seriously. Yet, even if these statements only reflect Putin’s cynicism, the reality is more complex than the one presented by the West. Contrary to the rhetoric about an “unprovoked war,” NATO has for years pursued an aggressive policy of encircling Russia. One need only look at a map with the new NATO members since the dissolution of the USSR. The Western imperialist powers have built their own glacis around Russia. This policy deepened after the Maidan uprising in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014. Kiev has since unquestionably moved politically, economically, and militarily closer to NATO and the EU, albeit with significant contradictions and frictions. The war in Ukraine and Putin’s oppressive policy are a reactionary response to this reality.

But the result of Putin’s war has been the strengthening of NATO and an even greater rapprochement between Ukraine and the Western imperialists. From this point of view, it can be said that Russia has in a way already suffered a defeat on certain important strategic points with regard to Ukraine: Ukraine has become a state close to the West, ultramilitarized and hostile to Russia, and its population perceives Moscow as an enemy force.

What’s Next?

As for next steps in the conflict, the current preferred option of the Western powers seems to be to supply Ukraine with as many weapons as possible, even if this means precipitating a dangerous escalation with Russia. This is not to say that the only option for the West is to impose a total defeat on Russia and bring down Putin. But even in the case of peace negotiations, the balance of power on the military field is decisive. The fact is that “endless escalation” can become a path of no return toward a very dangerous and catastrophic direct confrontation with Russia. This is especially true since Putin has just suspended Russia’s participation the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty with the United States. In other words, the threat of nuclear conflict remains a prospect that must be taken seriously.

In this sense, an important issue lies in NATO’s response in the eventuality, admittedly unlikely today, of a Russian advance toward Kiev. Indeed, the war in Ukraine is no longer solely a Ukrainian affair but an international one, and this aspect is reinforced as the war progresses. Also, a major Russian advance opening the possibility of a defeat of Kiev could provoke a direct response from NATO. This is a possibility that North American international analyst George Friedman also considers: “If Ukraine’s defenses collapse, the United States will have to make quick decisions (or quickly implement decisions already made). It could send forces into Ukraine to try to force a Russian retreat, or it could refuse to fight. Directly engaging Russian troops with a limited force may be a long, painful, and uncertain engagement. But accepting the outcome opens the door for Russia to begin reorganizing Europe again. A second Cold War would be a necessary but unwanted outcome. Strengthening Ukraine before it collapses would therefore be the least risky and least costly option.”

There are many possible scenarios, and we cannot discuss them all here. Everything, however, seems to indicate that a rapid opening of negotiations and an end to the fighting is not the most likely of prospects. The most optimistic prognosis is that these negotiations could begin only in a few months, that is, after a possible Russian offensive and a probable Ukrainian counteroffensive. In other words, the local population will still endure a lot of suffering before the war ends, even according to the most optimistic.

The Challenge of an Independent Working-Class Policy

The working and popular classes, not only in Ukraine and Russia but throughout the whole continent, must adopt a resolutely anti-imperialist and class-independent position on the war. That is, a position that is independent of both the interests of Putin’s regime and those of the Western imperialists. The most effective way to stop the war is the independent mobilization of the Russian working class against the reactionary Putin regime, a scenario in which the war breaks the passivity of the masses and pushes them to act. But such a perspective cannot imply an alliance with pro-imperialist forces, strengthening the Western powers, and imposing more suffering on the exploited and oppressed all over the world.

Therefore, despite the war, the interests of Ukrainian workers are not those of Zelenskyy. On the contrary. The latter has never forgotten to wage a war against workers’ rights, despite the war. The Ukrainian working class should have no illusions about Zelenskyy’s government and must organize independently as far as possible in a situation of war. In the imperialist states, the workers’ movement must demand, in addition to the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine, the dissolution of NATO, a reactionary imperialist alliance.

The working class and popular sectors remain the first affected by the war. In Ukraine they are the sectors of the population most directly affected by the war, the deaths, the destruction, the forced exile. In Russia, the working classes and ethnic minorities are the first affected by Putin’s mobilization, not to mention the economic difficulties, produced in part by the antisocial sanctions imposed on Russia by the EU and the U.S. In the imperialist countries, the workers are already bearing the increase in prices of all essential products. This is why we see more and more protest movements directly or indirectly against inflation: in the United Kingdom, in Portugal, or in France — where the massive mobilization against the pension reform also expresses a pent-up frustration with low wages and inflation — but also in Spain, among others.

These popular and working-class mobilizations, even if they do not directly target the war as a cause of social unrest, constitute a point of support precisely for developing an independent class position against the war. A mobilization against the war could become a springboard to go further in the undermining of capitalism. Because the reality is that in the imperialist era the question of national self-determination, as in Ukraine, is intrinsically linked to the struggle for socialism. As we expressed at the beginning of the war, the workers, youth, and working classes do not have to choose “the lesser evil,” between Putin and NATO. We continue to see anti-imperialism and class independence as fundamental to offering a truly progressive and revolutionary way out of the horrors of war.

Originally published in French on February 23, 2023 in Revolution Permanente.

Translated and adapted for clarity by Antoine Ramboz.

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Philippe Alcoy

Philippe is an editor of Révolution Permanente, our sister site in France.

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